It saved his life.

Without an organ transplant, a dear friend was destined to die young. By God’s grace, a donor was found, and the transplant was a success!

However, the new organ presented its own challenges. His immune system identified it as a foreign substance and began fighting against the very thing that would save him.

Thankfully, medication exists that can block that part of his immune system. He takes it to this very day to keep his own protective system from killing him.

Core Change

Unfortunately, there is no such drug to block limiting beliefs that fight against a desired change.

While people and situations change all the time (just go to your high school reunion), does anyone change at the core? Although it’s not the norm, research shows that a number of people actually do make intentional and lasting transformations.

In a recent post, I mentioned two keys to this kind of change: a well-designed process and loving accountability.  But there is another crucial element.

Hidden Competition

In their book, Immunity to Change, Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey discovered what really keeps us from making the changes we want: our “hidden competing commitments.”

Once we decide on a change, let’s say we want to lose 10 pounds, we design a process to achieve it. In this case, we decide to cut out sweets, control our portion size, and go to the gym three times a week. Perfect.

Our plan seems unstoppable, until we factor in what we have been doing or not doing instead. For the past few months (or years), we have devoured sweets multiple times a day, eaten as much as we wanted, and neglected any exercise. These are the behaviors that work against the “visible commitments” of our process.

For a while, by sheer force of will, we can overcome our old behaviors with our visible commitments. But at some point, we get tired and go back to our old ways.

Researchers have found that dieters gain back 107 percent of the weight they lose using this method.   

Lurking in Our Hearts

Here’s the secret. It’s not simply that we are resorting to well-worn behavior patterns. We also have hidden competing commitments that lurk in our hearts. They may sound like this.

  • I work hard, and I deserve to have a sweet as a reward.
  • Having seconds and thirds is how my family has always eaten.
  • I’ve never really been good at athletics and hate to exercise just to exercise.

Competing commitments are rarely expressed out loud. They stay hidden inside and serve as a very effective immune system that fights off a desired change.

Becoming Cooperative

To overcome an immunity to change, we must identify our hidden competing commitments and replace them with deeper, cooperative commitments that support the transformation we want to see.

We don’t have to be held hostage by our immune system. Deep change is possible, but it requires new cooperative commitments that can win the day.

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Roger Ross

A native of Cambridge, Illinois, Roger has served as a pastor in Texas, the British Channel Island of Guernsey, and Illinois. While in Illinois, he led teams that planted two new churches and served for 10 years as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Springfield. It was his privilege to serve as the Director of Congregational Excellence in the Missouri Conference before coming into his current role as an executive coach and specialist with Spiritual Leadership, Inc. (SLI). His passions include SCUBA diving in warm blue water, playing board games with family and friends, and teaching evangelism and church planting as an adjunct professor at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. He also has a weakness for golf.

Roger is the author of three books, “Meet The Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share Faith,” “Come Back: Returning to the Life You Were Made For,” and “Come Back Participant Guide,” all through Abingdon Press. Roger is married to Leanne Klein Ross, and they have two adult children, Zach and Jane (who’s married to Sam).